Case #2013.0

Antanas Mockus: The Prohibition of Fireworks in Bogotá

Publication Date: October 10, 2019
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In 1994, Antanas Mockus, an unlikely politician and former President of the prestigious National University of Colombia, became Bogotá’s first independent mayor, bringing with him a unique vision of harmonious citizenship. The city’s new leadership under Mockus, unlike in the past, included academics and researchers, who helped create a raft of new initiatives designed to align public behavior with the rule of law, through education and positive peer influence—or what was known as “citizenship culture.” In his first year, Mockus addressed two big issues plaguing Bogotá, deadly traffic and violence, by using unconventional methods like hiring mimes to control traffic and restricting the sale of alcohol during certain times of year. Mockus later tackled the culture of lighting fireworks—a popular symbol of celebration in Colombia—which typically killed or injured hundreds of adults and children annually.

In December 1995, at the beginning of the Christmas celebration season in Bogotá, Mockus faced a difficult decision. An eight-year-old boy had severely burned two of his fingers by lighting fireworks. Earlier that year, Mockus had arrived at a compromise agreement to allow limited sale of fireworks even though the number of fireworks-related injuries had risen steadily in recent years. The incremental approach required fireworks vendors to sell only to adults and to educate their customers about proper use. But if a single child in Bogotá was injured as a result of fireworks during the 1995 Christmas season, a full ban would come into effect.  

Part A of the case profiles Mockus’s campaign for mayor and details the events that led up to the ban on fireworks. It traces how Mockus and his team tried to facilitate social change on fireworks by using a combination of public education, laws and moral pressure. The sequel of the case describes the positive effects of the fireworks ban and includes two tables that show a sharp decline in fireworks-related injuries after the ban in 1995 and 1996, and a drop in traffic fatalities between 1995 and 2003 (after Mockus had left office). It also describes the negotiations with fireworks vendors and Mockus’s suggestions for alternative but transgressive substitutes for fireworks.

Learning Objective:
This case illustrates how Antanas Mockus worked on culture and seemed to effectively change it.  Social entrepreneurs or agents of change can employ different platforms and use cultural symbols to mobilize widespread support for change but timing, research, resources and a certain amount of flexibility are equally important.  The case allows students to analyze the critical elements of cultural change and examine how Mockus identified inconsistencies between behavior and beliefs; used cultural tropes as a mirror to highlight and put pressure on those contradictions; and in that process, positively aligned culture, law, and morality in Bogotá.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Inessa Lurye
Faculty Lead:
Archon Fung
Pages (incl. exhibits):